‘Enough’: York council leader hits back at online bullies and trolls
Council leader receives death threats
Opponent accused of anonymous trolling
‘Time to cast a light on nastier side of politics’
As City of York Council leader James Alexander expects to take some flak. But, he writes, the anonymous abuse has gone too far
As someone in the public eye, it is accepted that now and again I will be given a rough ride by different people for a variety of reasons – often with justification.
But on occasions some feel it is acceptable to level abuse. This is unacceptable.
Chris Titley, editor of YorkMix, had come across my comments about behaviour before and asked me to write an article on the issue in December 2012.
I didn’t get round to writing this – partly because I didn’t want to highlight the impact this online bullying was having on myself, my family or my work colleagues.
However, the situation has got worse since January and I think it is important to cast a light over the nastier side of York’s politics.
The rise of the troll
We live in a modern world where communication is instant and quite often public. The rise of social media has led to a rise in what has been called the “internet troll”. These are people who spend their time bullying and harassing others through electronic media.
Quite often these individuals hide behind a pseudonym and attack public figures either through comments on media websites, through blogs or through Twitter and Facebook.
For many of them no one is off limits and sometimes they resort to attacking junior members of staff.
Politics should be about ideas and ideals, agreements and disagreements, not name calling, not personalised attacks and certainly not harassment
There has been much in the media about this phenomenon, whether that be the recent case of Kate and Gerry McCann who received online abuse, that of Stella Creasy MP who was threatened with rape on Twitter, leading to the jailing of her assailant, or Conservative MP Tim Loughton who has suffered intolerable abuse from a constituent.
I have received similar abuse, as have other councillors and staff at City of York Council. This has included comments on The Press website, spurious freedom of information requests which have no basis in FOI legislation, Tweets, Facebook posts and emails.
I have been accused of abusing old ladies, theft, assaulting a member of staff and bullying. On occasions I have had to involve North Yorkshire Police, such as on the occasion when I received a death threat.
I have also involved the Police with instances of racist abuse I have received from one individual and harassment from another who has a history of violence.
Sadly it is sometimes councillors or people closely aligned to them who are these trolls. I take a zero tolerance approach to such behaviour.
Should someone set out to be offensive or say untruths, I will block them and often report them to the relevant authorities.
Below is an example of some of the abuse I receive:
Such abuse and harassment has a terrible impact on me but more importantly my family. It is also a barrier to people wanting to become involved in politics and change things for the better.
Most recently David Smith, a director at The Retreat and partner of Conservative Councillor Paul Doughty was uncovered as the man behind the Twitter account JackHamYork. He was exposed through a ‘selfie’ he posted to the wrong Twitter account.
David Smith has a career in mental health and recently wrote a paper on people’s self-esteem. Behind the mask of Jack Ham he retweeted a link to an online report which accused me of bullying, cover-up, theft and attempted assault of a member of staff with no basis for these claims, which are all untrue.
I am considering legal action against him as a result.
While he was exhibiting this behaviour he brought into question the reputation and integrity of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York Citizen’s Advice Bureau and York’s independent Fairness Commission – often accusing staff of these organisations of not being impartial.
He accused others of being cowards for hiding behind pseudonyms. His attacks on the very council staff he worked with in his day to day work are unacceptable.
It is impossible to fathom how someone who works in mental health could behave in such a way as to have a negative impact on my mental health and that of my family and colleagues.
And it is difficult to conclude that his actions were anything other than politically motivated.
I will be raising the issue of this unacceptable behaviour at the council’s next full council meeting of all councillors. Politics will always come with some rough and tumble – something many of us accept as part and parcel of the jobs we are doing, yet something we can separate from the personal.
But York’s current political culture goes well beyond strong disagreement on policy, is damaging to the council, has got worse and must change quickly.
Politics should be about ideas and ideals, agreements and disagreements, not name calling, not personalised attacks and certainly not harassment or bullying, anonymous or otherwise.
York residents deserve better and need better if they are to engage with public debate and the decisions we are making which affect them.
Councillors don’t always get everything right, but they usually do their best. Trolls have the luxury of choosing what to engage with, and how much time to give. Councillors usually have not enough time for explanations or deeper thinking. Grateful for their idealism and service, just sorry they are sometimes wrong.
Does your eloquent exposition of the damage done by online abuse mean that you will now expel Comrade Anna from the Labour Group?
I find James Alexander pretty consistently vile and disingenuous. I’m glad his words here don’t seem to be accepted at face value by commentators so far.
Pot calling kettle black ! Alexander is an utter disgrace. I will be very surprised if the London labour lot want this liability in their midst.
“I have been accused of abusing old ladies, theft, assaulting a member of staff and bullying.”
Okay, I ‘d like to put an open question to Mr Alexander: If an investigator were to examine the rather large footprint you have made in cyberspace, would they expose any sock puppet accounts attributable to yourself?
James Alexander’s demonisation of David Smith here is appalling. He uses the same spin and exaggeration as he does in his often weak defences of his dreadful policies and decisions. Worse still, involving David’s employers, and forcing his suspension, then his resignation, was a despicable act, aimed at ruining the career of talented, committed professional in the field of mental illness. It didn’t have to be that way, and shouldn’t have been. This was uncalled for, and a totally disproportionate course of action, which further tarnishes the reputations of those behind it.
The people of York will make judgements based on what they have witnessed and experienced from James Alexander, and David Smith. Not surprisingly, and ironically, there have been numerous comments in support of David on Twitter.
The hypocrisy exhibited here is sadly what we have become accustomed to from Mr Alexander, and he is far from sqeaky clean when it comes to ‘trolling’ and bullying – there are four ex-Labour councillors who will testify to this!
Trolling and internet abuse is disgusting and should be condemned. The problem is that Cllr Alexander is going to get less sympathy than most because of his reputation as one of the most autocratic leaders York has ever seen.
Just last night 2 more Labour councillors resigned the whip due to the culture of secrecy and control freakery that ensures that only a small cabal takes decisions and Labour councillors are threatened to comply or else. The council has been condemned by government watchdogs for a consistent lack of transparency – a culture engendered by Labour in power.
Most damning of all is when Labour councillors resign and lift the lid on “a Labour Group that is corrupt” and the “shackles of secrecy”. People may well turn around to James and say “pot calling kettle black”
Well, exactly. Frankly I take it as a badge of honour Alexander refers to me as ‘that unpleasant woman’. Anyway, I stuck to my guns re: bridges and our pressing need for more, and more flexible public transport.
As far as the nastiness of some of the abuse Alexander has received, yes. Really uncalled for. Much better to debate someone openly. Oh wait!! But wasn’t that virtually impossible with JA?
Abuse is uncalled for, but overt secrecy, and behind-the-door deals are also bad. C’mon 2015. Fresh start.